Hallo, my dear Readers!
And once again it lasted longer until the next chapter could be uploaded, but just right now before Christmas the so-called 'silent time' is running like mad. I do hope you're still eager to read what will happen next, especially when now something happens you all are waiting for.
I wish you fun,
Thank you once again for all the lovely and nice reviews,
Have a beautiful 3. Advent,
Chapter 55 – The Hidden Library
Draco and Hermione remained in the manor library the entire morning and into the afternoon, checking all the books they found in the 'forbidden' section Draco had described. They were grateful that Lucius allowed them their privacy, but they were certain that he would appear any moment. Yes, he had provided a lot of assistance, but they knew that he would go straight to McGonagall or Shacklebolt if he thought the affair too dangerous for them. Pipsy brought them a light lunch, salad and fresh warm bread, but their hard work didn't repay them with success. There was simply no more information in this library. There was no additional clue regarding Slytherin's travels after his departure from Hogwarts, nor were there any hints as to how he was connected to Penhuibin's followers. Both were beginning to wonder of there simply was no connection, and they had reached a dead end.
"That's it – I give up!"
Draco threw his hands in the air, blowing out his cheeks in frustration, glaring at the dozens of books and parchments spread around them. "Slytherin was in Egypt, all right, but what he did there or if he had anything to do with those wonkers at all is as lost as his grave."
"Or in the Hidden Library," Hermione sighed, rubbing her tired eyes, and Draco rolled his.
"Granger, forget it. I am so sorry I even told you about that place at all!" He frowned, chewing his lip.
But Hermione wouldn't be Hermione if she gave up. Placing an ancient text back on the shelf on the back wall of the well-hidden secret room of the library, she shook her head. "Your father said that the Hidden Library would open when the moment was right. Well, we – I mean you and your family – are certainly in need of this advice or at least a few answers. A better moment will not come again."
Draco strolled towards her, his hands stuck in his trouser pockets. "And what do you think we should do? Call on at my ancestor - or Slytherin himself - and hope we can land on a charm or spell that will open a secret passage?"
She smirked. "Yeah, something like that. Knowing the inclinations of the Malfoys, can you honestly believe that any of your family – your ancestors - would ever try just asking?"
The young man grimaced. "Mione, don't you think that there have been one or two Malfoys in the score of generations who might have come up with the same idea?"
She cocked her head, remembering all those portraits with the arrogance exhibited from their elevated noses. "Well … perhaps, but: was your family in any kind of danger at those times or really in desperate need for the kinds of knowledge Salazar Slytherin and other dark wizards left? Have conditions ever been as perfect as now? And truly, would a Malfoy just ask for help?"
"Our family was in danger for more than two years, Kitten, don't forget. Remember Voldemort?"
Leaning her back against the bookshelf, Hermione pursed her lips. "Did your father try to find the Hidden Library then?"
"What?" Draco stared. "Of course not! Just imagine if Father had found it – with Aunt Bella and Voldemort around the corner! If Slytherin has indeed left some of his personal documents in the possession of the first Malfoys and those parchments were protected before the Muggle-priests burned down the first manor, then nothing would have been able to stop Voldemort. He was powerful enough, even without the advantages its contents would have given him!"
"See?" Her index finger poked him in the chest. "My point exactly. Your father didn't try yet! And now our entire civilization is in danger again if the Egyptians can raise Penhuibin. Perhaps THAT is the key to the hidden passage!"
"If that's what they're up to. And if their goal is Penhuibin. And if we are on the right track, you mean!"
"You doubt what we're doing?" Hermione's eyes met his, and groaning, Draco rubbed his face; his silver ring sparkling in the torchlight, for there were no windows in that portion of the library.
"No, I don't doubt what we've discovered so far. The proof is there. But…" He stopped, lost for words. They were now going down a one-way street, and he did not like it. Not. One. Bit!
"No more buts," she replied. "We have exhausted all the possibilities. We have to try the impossibilities. So next-"
"All right! – just to shut you up!" Malfoy snapped. "Really, Granger, you are worse than a mule!" She only lifted a brow, still leaning, and crossed her arms. Draco knew that look. Surrendering, he raised his voice. "Lord Slytherin?" he asked mockingly. "This is Draco Abraxas Malfoy, a direct descendant of your good friend. The times are dark and our family needs your help, Lord Slytherin, so please aid us with your wisdom." His gaze swept the shelves and ceiling around them. "Sir Borealis Malfoy the Third., I humbly request that you grant us a boon and lift the spell that keeps the hidden documents safe and open the passage to the knowledge of our family and our family's mentor Salazar Slytherin." He flourished his wand in three tight circles, ending with it pointing toward the ceiling and looking, for all the world, like a renaissance lightning rod. He cocked his head, thinking of himself a fool, and sneering at Hermione.
He finally relaxed, leaning on the shelf across from her, tapping his foot and glaring at her. "Now you'll just say I did it wro -"
There was a sudden rumbling sound, followed by Hermione's scream as she vanished from one second to the next – not into thin air, but falling through the opening as the bookshelf she was leaning on swung back into darkness. The scream and the resultant thud left him standing stunned. The moan that came next brought him out of his paralysis. Calling her name, Draco was at the doorway. He barely made out Hermione, sitting before him on the floor. "Lumos!" he demanded, and in the light of his wandtip, he was looking down on her. "Are you injured?"
Hermione slowly moved to stand, rubbing her hip. "Ow, that hurt!"
He sighed, relief flying all over him – as long as she complained, she was okay – and bending down he helped her to her feet. She dusted off her clothes as best she could, but it was a futile effort, for it surrounded them both now, making them cough.
Hermione rubbed her bottom, "That'll leave a mark." She stopped as she saw the look on his face. Eyes wide, mouth agape, he looked past her, he did not appear to be breathing. Following his gaze, Hermione also saw, in the dim light of the wand the reason for his astonishment: a narrow stone staircase descending into the dark. "Do… do you think… could this be…?" She didn't dare to finish her sentence.
"I… I don't know," he finally whispered. His mind had gone blank for several moments with the realization that this could indeed be the way to the Hidden Library – which would mean that the legend was real. Gulping again he carefully stepped over the threshold; his heart racing around in his chest and his throat. He shuddered as the truth hit him: If this really were the secret passage to the Hidden Library, then they had found something generations of Malfoys had fruitlessly searched for. If this indeed was the entrance to the room that was a part of the first manor almost thousand years ago, then there were unimaginable treasures waiting for them, which had been lost for centuries.
"One way to find out," Hermione mumbled and reached for her wand – which lay across the room on their research table. Sighing – Draco was right, she did have a tendency to be without her wand over the last months – she addressed him, blushing. "Uh… could you ...?"
He blinked uncomprehendingly. "Huh?"
"My wand. I don't want to… um ..."
This all-too-familiar request seemed to bring the stunned young wizard back to the present, and with a sigh he waved his own. "Accio Granger's wand!" Handing it to her, she smiled gratefully, and lit it also.
"Are we going down?" she asked and Draco nodded, only to stop her.
"Wait! We don't know if the door closes as soon as we are out of range." He turned around. "Pipsy?" he called firmly, "come here!"
Hermione frowned. "Couldn't you do that more politely?"
Draco ignored her comment as Pipsy appeared with a crack in before them. "Master Draco called Pipsy?" Then the elf's protuberant eyes grew even larger when she saw the open passage and the stairway descending into the darkness.
"Yes, wait here and stay exactly on this threshold." Draco bent down and tapped at her shoulder, as the house elf didn't respond immediately. "Do you hear me, Pipsy? It's very important that you stay exactly here on this threshold. We don't know if the door will close if no one remains at the opening, and then we might be caught inside, possibly forever. Do you understand?"
Pipsy, whose eyes finally drifted to her master, nodded solemnly. "Yes, Master Draco, Pipsy will stay right here." She looked up to him. "The young master is being careful!"
For a moment he nearly smiled at her. "Yes, I will." Then he turned towards Hermione. "Ready?"
"Always," she nodded with poorly concealed excitement, bruise forgotten.
"Gryffindors!" he sighed, and tried the first stair by slowly shifting his full weight onto it. But the stone was solid, and nothing erupted from the walls. Hermione winced, half expecting a guardian phantom to leap a them from the depths, but was relieved when nothing came at them. Warily he climbed down the steep passage, Hermione right behind him, wands alight, eyes darting about them. Hermione kept to the centre of each stair, hand on Draco's shoulder, very much aware of the nasty surprises a Malfoy might have arranged for a visiting Muggle-born.
After the second 90 degree turn, the stair was lit by a rod of light set into the wall. "Do you recognize that?" she asked him.
He shook his head. "I've never seen anything like it. The spell for that must have been lost over the years." They kept moving, and doused their wands, holding them ready. Other rod lights appeared upon each landing. The air was stale. Dust puffed up with every step they took hung in the air behind them. The walls were made of fitted flagstone, similar to the stones of which the manor was built. Some feet below the door, they reached a level where the walls turned suddenly black, burned. Both teens stopped and looked at each other.
"This part was destroyed by the flames," Hermione said quietly, rubbing her fingertips over the soot from the destruction that happened more than six hundred years ago. Draco nodded, moistening dry lips. They exchanged a glance, both imagining the beautiful home eaten by hostile flames, and kept moving – wands ready, legs trembling and hearts thudding in their ears.
A few more steps further, the stonework changed. The soot-blackened walls became pale ones, free of soot, and between them thin layers of old stones, without mud or concrete, just like the first castles built a millennia ago. The temperature had fallen, and soon a mouldy scent mingled with the musty air.
"We must now be beneath the cellar level," Draco whispered; lowering his voice in the close, mysterious environment. "I'm certain that those who built the new manor did not know about these ruins. They would have mentioned it in the construction plans." He moved more carefully now as he reached a heavily shadowed segment of stairs. "Grandfather studied the documents concerning the new building for decades. If there had been the slightest hint of a passage like this, magically connected to the construction of the new manor, he would have fou – aaaa-AAAHHHHHH!"
He'd nearly stumbled and fallen, but Hermione had grabbed him by the collar, steadying him before his balance was lost. "Thanks," he gasped, breathing hard. The edge of the step he had just put his weight on crumbled under it. Moving even more slowly, the two finally arrived at the bottom.
Before them, a door that appeared to be made of metal. There was no lock, no handle, no indication of how to open it, only a long snake that coiled around the frame. Hermione remembered another door like this, and shivered. "Lumos!" they said together.
The moment the light of the two wands shone on it, the serpent's head began to move. The metallic tongue darted out, and blind eyes turned toward them. It hissed something in another language and Draco frowned, only to sag in frustration. "By Salazar's knotty wand, why didn't I think of that."
Hermione pursed her lips and watched the magical serpent that hissed again, sounding more insistent. "Was Borealis a Parselmouth?" she asked, forehead wrinkling.
He sighed deeply. "It is said that some of the first Malfoy line were able to speak some Parseltongue, taught by Slytherin himself, but…" He shoved his fingers through his blond hair, not realizing how much worse he'd smudged it.
Rubbing her chin, she thought a moment. "The entrance to the Chamber of Secrets was sealed and would only open to Parseltongue. Harry understood the basilisk and answered its questions, opening the entrance like that. Later, during the Battle of Hogwarts, Ron and I returned to the Chamber of Secrets to retrieve some basilisk fangs to destroy the Horcruxes. Neither Ron nor I could speak it, bur Ron remembered the words Harry had used to open the locket and imitated it – with the result that the entrance to the chamber opened. Let me see what I can do."
Draco listened to her with interest, then shook his head. "There's no stopping you three when you're on a mission, is there?" He caught her grin and glanced back at the waiting serpent. "So what did it sound like when Potter hissed?"
Clearing her throat, Hermione closed the distance to him and directed her attention to the guardian. Then she made a horrible strangled hissing noise – and Draco stepped back, thinking that sound might give a cobra chills. The head in front of her swayed slightly and the forked tongue darted out one more time, as if deciding whether to accept the pathetic approximation of its language or not.
"I hope it made some kind of sen-" The rest of her sentence became a squeak of pain, as the metallic head of the snake lashed at her and struck her, drawing blood. For a long moment, panic flew all over her. What if this guardian had known that she was Muggle-born? What if wizards with Muggle-blood weren't allowed here and were automatically cursed and killed? What if the fangs were poisonous?
Draco seemed to think the same. He immediately yanked her back, dropping her to the floor and flinging himself on top, when the metallic serpent attacked again. A sharp pain from metallic teeth struck his right leg as the snake's head lashed out, drawing blood from the young wizard, too.
The Malfoy heir was almost numb with shock, then he felt anger welling up. He had no idea if the bite was fatal or if this were only a test, but one thing he knew – that fiend had attacked not only him, but also his girl – something he would not tolerate! Raising his wand, he sent a spell at the guardian, powerful enough to make the wall explode. There was a brilliant flash, but the door and – more importantly, the frame with the snake - remained untouched. Only the blind head of the serpent retreated as if surprised, but retreated and again swayed from side to side. It reminded him very much of the tall cobra back in Hogwarts, which he knew had been Abdel.
Not daring to move, they waited. When a second attack didn't come, he rose and moved carefully back toward the staircase. "You okay?" he whispered, pulling her with him.
In the dim light of her still glowing wandtip, their eyes met, both of them scared, before she nodded bravely. But before he could ask her another question, a deep sigh echoed through the cold still air – full of weariness, sorrow and regret, but also with relief and hope.
Both teens went rigid. Whoever ... had sighed ... was nearby – or, more clearly, around them.
A different sound at the door, and they watched the guardian's long slender body leaving its hovering position and curling up again as if nothing had happened. A metallic creaking ... and the door slowly opened.
For a long moment, they could only stare at the entrance, their uneven breathing the only sound. Draco collected all of his newfound courage (he inwardly cursed the unwelcome valour that seemed to befall him over the last months whenever when something became dangerous) and put Hermione behind him, ready to protect her if necessary, the two spots the guardian serpent had inflicted on him now almost forgotten.
"How's your arm?" he murmured.
"Not bad." In the light of her wand she quickly examined the injury on her arm and frowned. "The bite … it's almost closed."
Not wanting to take his eyes from the door, Draco carefully pulled his right trouser leg up and risk a quick glance at the two tiny, bleeding points. He pursed his lips. "Mine too!" he whispered.
What was the meaning of all this?
Hermione, whose rational and always active mind was already examining possible answers, gulped and murmured: "What, if … if this was a … a kind of test for the blood status?" In the twilight she met his alarmed glance.
"No Malfoy has ever accepted Muggle-borns!" He turned toward her, his face troubled. "Perhaps you should go back upstairs!" There was a low thud, and when he looked over his shoulder, he realized that the entrance now stood wide open.
"I don't know how you read it, but that looks like an invitation to me," she pointed out.
"Really?" he retorted sarcastically. "But the question is: An invitation for both of us or only for me?" He watched her expression grow dark, and laid a hand on her shoulder. "Hermione, be reasonable. This is Malfoy Manor after all, and even if you are the brightest witch of our age and certainly one of the most gifted magicians Muggles ever gave us," – he ignored her blush – "I'm almost certain that the spells on this library will not allow you to cross the threshold. Maybe this is a trap and-"
"Draco?" Hermione interrupted him; her gaze had changed from wonder to fear and was directed behind him.
He spun, stiffening, and braced himself against the unexpected, wand ready. And then he saw what she saw: not a chimera, a sphinx, nor an enchanted serpent – but two gently glowing ghosts, a man and a woman. Both students were accustomed to having ghosts around – after all Hogwarts had several, and even Professor Binns was a ghost – but seeing two restless souls that obviously lived under his home for centuries caught him by surprise.
The man was average height, as far as Hermione could tell. He had probably still been young when he died, and he carried and air of sadness as well as determination. Hair, long and pale, swept down to his elbows, an ancient robe hung from broad shoulders, the classical features with the high cheekbones indicated his identity immediately - a Malfoy, indeed. The woman at his side had long dark hair falling to her hips. She wore a simple dress with long sleeves, a kind of tiara, but nothing else that might indicate her status. Her face was sweet and beautiful, with large eyes and full lips, her features completely unknown to both of them.
Hermione's hand slipped from Draco's cold fingers. "Do … do you think that … that this is one of your ancestors?" she breathed into his ear.
Draco Malfoy was not thinking right now. His mind had frozen. Unlike Hermione, he knew exactly who was floating before them. He had seen this man in an old portrait and on the family tree of the Malfoys that had survived the flight of his family to France all those centuries ago. It made sense that this man who had such a strong link to the world of the living now haunted this place as a ghost.
Wetting his lips Draco whispered, "Borealis Malfoy the Third!"
Hermione's curiosity was getting the better of her, as so often before. "The man who saved the library when the first manor burned?" Her voice sounded loud in the dusty silence, and Draco winced.
"Kitten! Please be quiet!" he hissed, watching the two ghosts carefully. The apparitions said nothing, but waited. And Draco didn't dare make a wrong move. He might activate a spell or curse and he had no desire to get hexed.
"Maybe he was the one who opened the entrance upstairs after he heard you," Hermione whispered warily under her breath. "Perhaps you need to repeat your request?"
Fighting down the dread in his stomach and collecting all of his newly developed audacity, Draco introduced himself again, and repeated his requirement for help. Then he repeated the whole thing in French, his heart in his throat as he waited for a reaction. He knew that, if this person before him were really the restless soul of Borealis Malfoy the Third, there would be a big difference between English and French of today and his day, but Draco was also certain that he made his intention clear for anyone to understand who might be familiar with those two languages.
And he was right.
All of sudden the woman came closer, toward Hermione, and Draco found himself stepping between them. "No! Don't you touch her!" he demanded, pulling Hermione more firmly to him.
The woman stopped, tilted her head, eyed them both, then smiled, turning to her companion, his so-typical Malfoy lack of expression carved into his features. He pointed a transparent hand at Hermione, who held her breath. Draco straightened and said sternly: "She is my betrothed!" Then he said the same in French, too – ignoring Hermione's perplexity.
For several moments (which seemed to take forever) the glowing forms remained where they were, then, soundlessly, without any drama, they turned to each other, embraced and retreated into the now brightened room behind the still open door.
For more than a full minute, the two students waited, but the apparitions did not return, nor did they hear any more from them. Finally, having no other choice, both walked to the door, took a deep breath and stepped over the threshold. More of the lighting apparatuses bathed the entire area in a bright, warm glow, and they saw that they indeed stood in a library – a very, very old one!
Shelves. To their left and right were shelves, stacked high with parchments, documents, hand-written books, even stone tablets… Amazed, Draco stared into the twilit room and then back at the girl. "Hermione, you are a genius!" he smirked.
He grinned: "You had with the right idea. All we had to do was to ASK." He grimaced. "Something no Malfoy would do readily."
Hermione sighed and patted his shoulder. "One of the reasons we survived the war was because Dumbledore promised help to every Hogwarts student who would ask for it. Your family is too proud for its own good."
"Hey!" He smacked her on the arm, making her wince. Instantly he was sorry – wait! Merlin, this girl was turning him into a sissy! – and concern showed on his pale features. "Sorry, Kitten, that was the arm where the snake attacked. Are you all right?"
Brown eyes looked up at him and she smiled. "Yes, almost all healed." Then she took a deep breath and a firm grip on her wand. "Ready?"
And both crossed the threshold.
The first thing they noticed was that the library was larger than they had suspected. Much larger; even larger than the one above them. In earlier times, it must have been a gorgeous salon. The two lovers could see the frescoes at the ceiling, and above them an intricate iron candelabra hung at a strong chain, covered with dust and webs. A heavy table and chairs were positioned in the middle, also bearing the traces of centuries and a candlestick on the table still held the melted beeswax burned there long before. There was a carpet beneath their feet, the patterns not recognizable beneath the thick layer of dust.
Hermione took in every detail of her surroundings. There were shelves from floor to fresco, covering the walls, with freestanding shelves the centre, creating room dividers, all filled with books, documents, parchments, maps.
The air was dry and clean. The magic of the last first Malfoy was still in effect, even after all those centuries.
The ghosts had disappeared, no hex was hurled in their direction, no magical trap sprang up in their faces. Both sighed in relief and looked at each other. Draco lifted a brow. "He gave us his permission."
"Sir Borealis the Third." He grinned at her. "It really was his ghost!"
She sighed. "I certainly could tell he was a relative. I swear, he looked just like your father."
He dropped a kiss on her temple. "The rest is obvious, too. I knew he wouldn't do anything to you if I told him that you were my betrothed. We Malfoy men are all very resolute when it comes to our prospective spouses." He saw her look of confusion and the resulting blush, pressed a quick kiss on her lips and turned his attention back to the room.
"We did it!" Draco whispered, then shook his head – incredulous and overwhelmed. Then a large smile spread over his face. "We did it, Hermione!" He snaked both arms around her waist and hoisted her up, laughing brightly. "We did it, Granger! You were right! The key of the secret passage was all those centuries directly beneath our noses, but only now was the right time to use it!"
She joined in his delighted laughter, wrapping her arms around his neck, bite forgotten for the moment. "You found it, Draco Abraxas! You succeeded where all the others have failed!"
He set her down and hugged her, beaming from one ear to the other. "No, Kitten, you found it! You figured out the riddle's solution. If you hadn't been so stubborn, I would have never asked!" He laid his forehead against hers, his heart galloping. Ah, victory was so sweet – and then to share it with someone who held his heart… It was an intense moment he would never forget.
Giggling, Hermione slipped her arms around his hips, and sighed happily as his mouth found hers. Then she hugged him, rubbing her cheek at his shoulder, ignoring the smell of dust and old air – only to begin coughing, as he did the second he buried his face in her hair. Both let go of each other and sniggered as they realized that they were smudged in dust.
"I think a shower will be on the menu. But first…" He nodded towards the shelves, and Hermione – always the book lover – headed towards them; peering almost reverently at the old parchments and books. With great care, she reached for some scrolls and touched them, remembering to breathe when she felt the dry firm material beneath her fingertips. "They… they must be incredibly valuable," she whispered.
Draco nodded. "Yeah – and especially the content…"
"Shall we begin our search?"
Rubbing his neck, Draco hesitated. "We should call my father. He knows the charms and spells to keep old documents safe while reading them. I… I don't dare open them without preparation."
She was disappointed, but she had to agree. "You're right. These documents are irreplaceable. It would be wrong to risk any damage." A cold shiver ran down her spine, as if something had touched her back – a feeling she knew from whenever Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington of Gryffindor brushed past her. She turned and heard Draco gasp the same moment she saw the silvery woman behind her.
The lady's face was gentle, pleased – and so full of sorrow that it tore at her heart. "What is it?" Hermione dared to ask directly. "What do you want, lady?"
Another icy chill ran through both young people, as the ghost if Sir Borealis the Third passed through them.
"Damn, I hate it when they do that," Draco mumbled, but eyed his ancestor. The figure that bore the features of his father looked back at them and beckoned them to follow. At the same time, the woman did the same.
Hogwarts' Head Students hesitated and looked at each other. "They want to show us something," Hermione whispered, and he nodded.
"Yes. And according to what the stories told of his whereabouts, I'm almost certain what we're going to find." He breathed deeply and took the small hand of his little lioness in his pale fingers. "Do you think you can bear the view of someone who is dead for centuries?"
Her eyes grew round as saucers, hearing the implication. "You mean…?" She made an erratic gesture.
Draco nodded. "He stayed behind when the rest of the family fled to France and was never seen again – and his bond to this world was too strong to allow his soul to go free." He knew by now she was brave enough to face anything. Looking into her chocolate eyes, he knew she would attend him.
Hermione bit her lips and looked back toward the ghostly couple not far away, and nodded. Gripping Draco's hand tighter, she straightened. "Let's go!"
Carefully, footsteps slightly muffled by the dust on the floor, they followed the two shining apparitions, advancing deeper and deeper into the old room; the light rods embedded in the walls and the soft glow of the two ghosts driving back the darkness. They passed the massive table and the chairs, only now seeing the heavy carvings in the high backrests and the legs of them – typical for their time. Bowls and a pot made of tin, stood in the middle of the table desk, the water that once filled the pot long gone. Now and again their feet crunched on the detritus of ages.
Then, all of sudden, they had reached the end of the room. Instead of shelves, there was a long padded bench with footrests; certainly offering the family a more comfortable place to read in earlier times. A large, almost black painting hung above it, showing only a pale face with grey eyes and pale blond hair, and candlesticks were affixed at both sides of the frame.
But it wasn't those sights that made the visitors pause, but the two figures on the couch. Even if both had already anticipated – known! – what awaited them, their breaths still caught, and they felt a shudder running down their spines at the sight of the two corpses, holding each other even in death. The dry air had mummified them, the skin now parchment, stretching over the skulls, but their hair was recognizable – his a pale blond, hers nearly black – as well as their clothes, colours lost beneath the dust of years. His head was leaned back against the wall behind him, eyes closed, mouth agape; hers was nestled on his right shoulder, turned towards him, the soft material of her dress – velvet it appeared – spread over his lap and down to the floor, her hair fell over it like a waterfall.
This couple had died in each other's arms.
She looked up at the ghosts to her left, and met the sad gaze of the woman she recognized as the one whose body sat dead before her. Draco had wrapped an arm around her, looking with a strange expression at the two bodies he certainly saw in the dim light of the wands for the first time since the last candle flickered out and he died.
Draco bit his lips. He knew, of course, who the man was who sat before him. No miracle that he had vanished and never been seen again. It was true: He died in the Hidden Library after he sealed it, together with a woman he loved.
The family history never mentioned a woman in his life, let alone a betrothed or a bride. His mistress, perhaps? But why would he take this woman with him to the grave? Why hadn't he done anything to send her to safety, even if only a mistress? Even if she wasn't worthy to carry the Malfoy name – which he doubted, seeing that this woman must have been very important to Sir Borealis – anyone in his family would have protected her on his behalf. So why…
Hermione's wand pointed to their right, and frowning, he followed her gesture. His eyes widened, seeing several sheets of parchments on a small bench. On the floor lay the remains of a quill and a dried ink pot. Exchanging a look, they moved closer, trying to ignore the uncomfortable feeling of being so near to the ancient corpses. He took the topmost sheet very carefully, again lighting his wand and bringing the glow close to the writing.
He instantly recognized the old gothic script that had been used from the seventh until the end of the twelfth century to write letters, reports or contracts. The script was rough and unsteady, as if the writer's hand had trembled, but he could nevertheless read it. He needed a moment to get used to the spelling and grammar (or to identify old words which had long ago fallen into disuse), then he started to read again.
"What is it?" Hermione asked at his sharp intake of breath, and stepped nearer. She saw the look on his face and bent down to take the other sheets of parchment, similarly filled with the tiny gothic letters. Reading them was a challenge. She was very good in Ancient Runes, but old scripts had been a random interest for her, a calligraphy hobby she would pursue while in the Muggle world. She began to read, a slow and difficult progress to read the last words of the man on the settee.
Draco's gasp attracted her attention. "What's the matter?"
He gulped visibly and bit his lips, before he answered: "She was shot – with an arrow. One of the Muggles who accompanied the priests and attacked the old manor … Borealis saw it too late." He hesitantly looked at the two dead bodies with compassion and some shock mirrored in this silver eyes. "He tried to save her, but… there was nothing he could do. She…" he swallowed again, "she died in his arms." He pressed his eyes shut for a moment and shook his head. "Muggle weapons are no less deadly than a killing curse, it seems." Hermione held her breath and looked at the couple, gone – but not forgotten. Draco added: "There was no chance for him to save her life. All he could do was bring her to the heart of the mansion, and then…" his voice faltered, "then the fire started!"
They looked at each other, beginning to picture the drama that must have unfolded that fateful day. While the first manor was consumed by flames: the young lady was dying and the young master was unable to save her, taking her with him to the grave full of magic knowledge, written down by eager hands.
"Are…" Hermione cleared her throat, realizing now how tight her chest felt. "Is the arrow still there?"
Draco felt a dart of anger toward this girl and her very practical curiosity, so typical for this particular Gryffindor, then he saw the sorrow in her eyes and the empathy. He moved to the ottoman and bent over the bodies. There, just above the heart of the witch his ancestor clung to even in death, he saw something that made his stomach turn. "There…" Blood. He'd seen too much of it in this house. "There is a hole in her dress… and a dark spot." Nothing more was needed. Sir Borealis wasn't able to save her, but at least he had removed the deadly bolt that had taken his beloved from him.
Draco bit his lips until he knew the metallic taste of his own blood on his tongue. He had read classical dramas – that Shakespeare was among them was something he intended to keep from his father! – had listened to opera – Muggle and Wizardring ones – and had studied the history of his own family and other Purebloods, but to see the literal results of one of those 'stories' made him sick.
Hastily he stepped back. "He brought her to the library, and after he begged the rest of the family to flee, and they took as much with them as they could, he hid them both away, sealed the library and…" he shuddered, "and died, after she died in his arms. He had lost his will to live." He glanced up to the two ghosts still with them, and fixed his ancestor. "Thou didst love her more than life?" he addressed the restless soul of Sir Borealis Malfoy. The ghost did not speak, but kept on looking from him to Hermione and back.
Hermione had scanned the document further, pursed her lips – and hesitated. What had she read only a second ago? What did it say? Her eager eyes followed the written words once again – and she gasped, "Draco?" The pitch of her voice had ascended – the clear signal of how alarmed she was.
He turned back to her. "Yes?"
Her next words thundered in his ears: "Draco, she… she was Muggle-born!"
Surprise, surprise! This is certainly something you never imagined, am I right? (laugh) And the little background-story will continue within the next chapter, including a very perplex Lucius Malfoy and two eager Head-Students, which are going to explore more.
I'm sorry but I don't think that I will be able to install the next part before my holidays, because in one week and two days I'm going on ski-vacation and will be back at the begin of January.
I wish you all Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year and may the Lord will hold His hands over you all.
Love from Germany,